Sleep and Depression


What happens to the soul when we sleep? When I am depressed, I find it very hard to get out of bed — it is as though I can go on sleeping even though my body has surely had enough rest! Are there any spiritual benefits to sleep? Is the tendency to sleep biochemical secondary to what is released during depression? Thank you.

—Leigh, USA


Dear Leigh,

Nothing happens to the soul when we sleep: it is ever-perfect. What changes is our level of consciousness, as we (usually) go into a subconscious state during sleep. Our awareness retreats partially from the senses, and our energy becomes more centered in the chakras. This gives body and mind an important rest, enabling us to make better efforts—physically, mentally, and spiritually—when we awaken, as well as have a generally better outlook on life.

So yes, sleep is beneficial on many levels. Too little sleep, said Paramhansa Yogananda, is harmful to the nervous system. Sleep is particularly helpful for the heart and digestive tract. He also said that one who aspires to develop uniformly and steadily in spirituality must always keep the body quiet and not in perpetual motion and restlessness.

One can get an even better rest through deep meditation, to the extent that highly advanced meditators need to sleep very little, if at all. But the rest of us need some sleep to rest and rejuvenate ourselves.

Yes, depression can make it difficult to get out of bed, and not only because of its biochemical effects. Depression can engender pessimism, despair, and hopelessness, which rob a person of energy, and thereby incline one toward needing more sleep.

I pray that you will soon find your way out of that insidious illness.